Russian voters can be forgiven some confusion when they go in to vote for the municipal elections in Saint Petersburg later this month.
That’s because three of the candidates all have the same name and look almost identical.
Two of them seem to be impersonating Boris Vishnevsky, a well-known opposition politician, and senior member of the liberal Yabloko party.
The Guardian reports that it is common to find “spoiler candidates with identical surnames” pitting themselves against Russian opposition politicians in order to confuse voters at the polls:
Vishnevsky already knew that two of his opponents had changed their names so that they were also called Boris Vishnevsky, an update on the common tactic of nominating a “double” to split the vote and deliver victory to another candidate.
Russian media outlet Meduza also mentioned that the method of political cosplay to derail the vote has been happening in at least three Moscow districts.
But now things have been taken to a new level, as it seems Vishnevsky’s impersonators have not just changed their names, but their faces, too:
All three Boris’ are balding and sport a short salt-and-pepper beard.
Vishnevsky’s Facebook friends said the only way to spot the real Vishnevsky “is that he was the only one who bothered to wear a tie”.
Vishnevsky is decrying his doppelgängers, saying that their tactic is “political fraud”:
“This is all done to disorient voters, so that they confuse the fake with the real, and instead of the real Vishnevsky they vote for one of the fakes,” said the real Vishnevsky in an interview.
He is convinced that the fake versions of himself used photo manipulation, with one who appears to have digitally altered his hairline to look like he’s balding, as well as growing out their beards particularly for their submissions to the electoral commission.
Below is what one of the candidates is supposed to look like, according to an official photograph used on a St Petersburg government website:
Other publications in Russia caught on, confirming that one of Vishnevsky’s doppelgängers is indeed Viktor Bykov:
Bykov’s identity was first revealed by the Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta, and a St Petersburg news website later published a screenshot of a document it alleged showed he changed his name on 3 July.
Vishnevsky believes that the impersonators were paid handsomely because, as he said, he doesn’t think they would “agreed to embarrass themselves like this for free”.
He also mentions how every year, the elections seem to get dirtier.
The fact that two other candidates changed their names AND faces this year has really made these elections one for the history books, though.
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